The (Small Sample Size) Minnesota Lynx Have Been an Elite Team

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At this earliest stage of the WNBA season, teams have only played a few games each. Any statistical analysis of teams done at this point carries little weight for projections for the season. Teams’ offensive and defensive numbers are sure to change drastically as the season progresses and early luck runs out.

Nevertheless, here are some early returns for the Minnesota Lynx.

After three games the Lynx are the league’s only remaining undefeated team and have been dominant on the defensive end. According to the WNBA website’s advanced stats page, the Lynx currently have a defensive rating (the number of points a team’s opponents score per 100 possessions) of 84.0 which, if maintained for the whole season, would be the best in WNBA history. The team has held their opponents to shooting 40 percent or less in all of their games this season, and their opponents have combined to shoot just 20.4 percent on three-point shots. Since 2011 the Lynx have a 108-3 win-loss record when they hold their opponent below 40 percent shooting from the field.

The Lynx defense passes the eye test so far as well. There have been few uncontested shots since the Lynx’s first quarter of the season against the Chicago Sky. The Lynx have negotiated screens masterfully, switched defensive assignments fluidly when necessary, and have done a fairly good job of walling up on shots at the rim.

“We’re athletic, we’re persistent. [Perimeter defenders] get through screens well. I think they take a lot of pride in that. Every time we play we just hope that we’re hard to play against and I thought that group was.” Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve said after the team’s win against the Seattle Storm.

Another major part of the Lynx’s early success has been their dominance on the boards. One of the Lynx’s stated goals for the season is to be the best rebounding team in the league, and so far that has come to fruition. They currently possess the highest overall rebounding percentage in the league (58.4 percent of total possible rebounds collected), the second highest offensive rebound percentage (41.8 percent), and the second highest defensive rebound percentage (73.3 percent). The Lynx out-rebounded both the Chicago Sky and the Storm by double digits in their first two games of the season. Since 2011 they have a 74-4 record in games where they finish with a double-digit rebounding advantage over their opponent.

On the offensive end, the Lynx have scored fairly efficiently so far this season, currently ranking fourth in true shooting percentage at 52.0 percent. They have also done a good job of sharing the ball on offense, currently ranking second in assist percentage at 68.7 percent, and have been dangerous scoring from all over the floor. The team has a variety of offensive weapons and scoring has been balanced with five players—Sylvia Fowles, Napheesa Collier, Odyssey Sims, Damiris Dantas, and Danielle Robinson—all currently averaging double-digit scoring, with Lexie Brown not far behind at 8.3 points per game.

With a very different roster than in past years, it has helped that both of the Lynx 2019 draft picks have played very well in their first regular season games. In the team’s season opener against the Chicago Sky, both Collier and Shepard had Lynx record-setting performances. Collier had the highest scoring debut for a Lynx player and the second highest scoring rookie debut in league history, recording 27 points (8-10 from the field, 3-4 on threes, 8-11 on free throws), 6 rebounds, 2 steals, and 3 blocks, and recorded a +28 plus/minus for the game. Shepard led the team in rebounding and assists with 13 rebounds (the most in a Lynx rookie debut and the most rebounds in a WNBA rookie debut since DeTrina White in 2004) and 6 assists. She was also a +13 for the game.

After three games, Collier is the team’s second leading scorer and Shepard is second on the team in both rebounds and assists per game. Their continued success will be crucial for the Lynx this season.

The Lynx have earned their wins by being great at defense and rebounding, the core of their identity. However, through three games there are some things for the team to correct moving forward. Through their first two games, the team turned the ball over a total of 42 times and accrued 40 personal fouls, both much higher marks than the Lynx would like. While they managed to win big at home while doing so, Reeve cautioned before the team left for Dallas that this would likely not be the case during the team’s first road trip of the regular season.

“Playing at home there’s a comfort level of having your fans that you can feed off of. Sometimes you can get away with some stuff that you can cover up because you’re playing at home. On the road you can’t, so you get exposed and when you strip back some of the things that we’re not getting done, those things will become a problem on the road. So that’s what we’re talking about cleaning up, particularly on the offensive end. You’ve got to be a much better team than twenty-two turnovers a game. On the road that will probably end up costing you.”

In their first road game against the Dallas Wings, this statement nearly proved prophetic. Despite building a significant early lead, the Lynx committed 16 turnovers to allow the Wings back into a game that ended with a much closer margin than the first two. While the Lynx still won the game, If they don’t continue to clean up some of their offensive execution they may not be so fortunate in their next game in Seattle.

The Lynx appear to have gelled early despite fielding an almost entirely different group of players from last season. They will need to continue to iron things out with this group, as they will be without Seimone Augustus for an indefinite period of time after she underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on May 30th to alleviate pain she’d been dealing with since the start of the preseason. The Lynx have played very well so far, and the early-season results indicate that they may be an elite defensive team capable of challenging the league’s best. However, there is tougher competition to come, and results from their upcoming slate of games should shed more light on what this team is made of.

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